For soccer-loving foreigners, one of the most peculiar aspects of American football is the huddle. To them, it is an anomaly, a form of institutionalized inaction that turns the game into a succession of coffee breaks.
About the only exception to this pattern of long interruptions occurs at the end of either half, when teams often go to a ''two-minute offense'' with few huddles in an attempt to score quickly. At tiny Mississippi Valley State, however, Coach Archie (Gunslinger) Cooley has taken this concept to its logical conclusion. His Delta Devils have dropped huddles altogether.
To say that this strategy has met with success is to put it mildly. The team's so-called offense of the 1990s has been scoring points at an amazing rate. Leading up to last Saturday's battle of unbeatens with Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State had averaged 64 points and 550 yards per outing.
Alcorn, a power in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, finally managed to contain this offensive juggernaut, but not without a struggle. Mississippi Valley stormed back from a 28-7 deficit in the second half, but Alcorn emerged with a 42-28 victory.
''Call it what you want, it was an epic,'' said Alcorn Coach Marino Casem. ''People wanted a show, and they got a good one. No, a great one.''
To accomodate the demand for tickets, the game was switched from Mississippi Valley's 10,000-seat stadium in Itta Bena to Jackson, where nearly 64,000 attended. Earlier in the season, the promise of offensive fireworks drew 40,000 to watch the Delta Devils defeat Grambling in Indianapolis in the first Circle City Classic.
The decision to drop huddles occurred during a practice after the season's first game. Even though Mississippi Valley had just beaten Kentucky State 86-0, the coaches were concerned about how long it was taking to run plays. When Cooley couldn't come up with a good reason for keeping huddles, they were eliminated.
Now quarterback Willie Totten looks to the sideline for hand signals from Cooley, who is easy to spot with his trademark cowboy hat. Totten then relays the needed information to his teammates by calling out a verbal code. After looking over the defense, Totten can make adjustments to attack where the opposition is most vulnerable.
There are several advantages to this tactic. For one, the offense gets more plays in (87 per game as compared to 65 last year). Secondly, the defense seldom gets a chance to huddle or even substitute (opponents who try to send in subs sometimes are penalized for having too many men on the field). And finally , Totten can use most of the allotted time between plays to size up the defense.
The Delta Devils don't use a quick snap very often. This helps prevent illegal procedure penalties and allows the team to catch its breath. But given the fact that Cooley runs two-hour, no-huddle scrimmages in practice, his charges have learned to adjust to this efficient offense, which school publicist Chuck Prophet has named the Satellite Express. That's because the quarterback goes by ''satellite'' in the team's terminology.
''Not just anybody can do what we are doing,'' Cooley says. ''You have to have the right kind of players.'' In Totten, Mississippi found a beaut. As a high school player he was overlooked in a run-oriented offense, but with All-American receiver Jerry Rice as a target, Totten has completed a record 45 TD passes to this point in the Devils' 7-1 season. Two games remain.
Cooley has drawn from various sources in constructing his high-powered passing attack, taking from the best he's seen other college teams use and packaging it with some pointers he's picked up from the pros.
The result is a dynamic new look that has brought considerable attention to this predominantly black school of 2,300 students. After years of playing .500 football, Mississippi Valley is in contention for an at-large berth in the Div. I-AA playoffs. The national media is on to the story, too. CBS even sent a special crew to film a halftime segment on the magic in itty bitty Itta Bena.
The catch is that in running up huge victories over certain outmanned foes, the Delta Devils find fewer people want to play them. They may be looking for several new opponents in '85. Boot master
A standard practice in promoting All-American candidates is to reprint rave notices from writers, coaches, and fellow players. But from a U.S. senator? Well, you can't say the University of Georgia wasn't trying when it took a comment by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina and used it in a mailer on Bulldog placekicker Kevin Butler. ''He must be the most popular Butler in the state of Georgia since Rhett,'' Thurmond is quoted.
The comment appears on a publicity piece that shows Kevin looking like the proper butler, with a football on a serving tray. The caption: ''The Butler did it!''
The senior kicker, has already broken Herschel Walker's Southeastern Conference scoring record and now has his sights set on Tony Dorsett's national career scoring record of 356 points. Butler currently has 337 points on 72 field goals and a raft of conversions, and given his 9.5 points-per-game average should topple the mark during the next three games. But Arizona State's Luis Zendejas is slightly ahead of Butler with 341 points, and he too has three games remaining. More post-season plums
The NCAA has approved two new at-large bowl games this season, the Cherry Bowl, to be played in the Silverdome outside Detroit on Dec. 22, and the Freedom Bowl, scheduled Dec. 26 in Anaheim, Calif. This brings the number of NCAA-certified bowls to 18.
To achieve bowl status, applicants must produce a $1 million letter of credit and wait a year before the application is reviewed. Games must pay a mininum of fork over $750,000, which would make it the sixth most lucrative post-season contest. The Freedom Bowl has not yet announced an anticipicated payoff.